By Contributor Daryl Geffken
Someone I admire thinks the demise of traffic safety was ushered in with the Anti-Lock Brake System. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest each car should have a knife affixed to the steering wheel, tip pointing straight at the driver. His reasoning? Cars have become too safe, too able to correct for our carelessness; our lack of responsibility. Extreme? Perhaps. But he gets his point across.
I would suggest many of us have made our environments too comfortable; too safe. Eighteenth Century pastor Jonathan Edwards is most famous for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. However, he made no distinction in Christian duty between saving the poor in spirit and the poor in material wealth and status. In a less cited, but equally powerful sermon, Edwards demanded, “Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?”
Author Tim Keller argued that Jesus’ teaching was clearly understood by his audience as demanding the sacrifice of one’s social position and material well-being. Keller explained that Jewish culture during the time of Jesus relied heavily on a patronage system. Social networking was founded upon the material investment of wealthy people into others, who would in turn provide favors and protect the interests of their patron. These networks were often created and maintained through lavish dinners, and though the initial investment was substantial, the return was well worth it.
It was within this context that Jesus made the following appeal: When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (Luke 14:12-13).
According to Keller, a challenge such as this would amount to “economic and social suicide” for those hearing Jesus’ charge. It contradicted the standard practice of establishing networks with rich and powerful benefactors in favor of creating relationships with the poor and marginalized. Jesus expected his disciples to give without the expectation of being repaid in any way.
In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus’ basic economic view is simply that we take care of each other, friends and enemies alike. This is driven by compassion and empathy founded upon the Golden Rule of Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This may be dismissed as impractical idealism.
Pastor Brian McClaren stated, “Christian discipleship is training for apostleship, training for mission. From this understanding we place less emphasis on whose lineage, rites, doctrines, structures, and terminology are right and more emphasis on whose actions, service, outreach, kindness, and effectiveness are good.”
I just watched the World Cup Rugby Sevens Match. Don’t know the rules? Imagine hard-hitting football without pads. Not.one.single.pad. Show of hands: who ever played Saturday football? I did. We didn’t use pads. There was this one kid (I use the term loosely, because unless he was in a Sumo Dojo, there is no place where would not be in the top fifth percentile of size). Whoever quarterbacked his team, would run one play and one play only: handoff up the middle. I remember trying to stop this guy. Correct that: I remember up to the point I tried to stop this guy. Then I remember grass. The next time he came at me, I wasn’t sure the risk was worth my broken body.
When you are close to pain, how you risk and what you risk changes. My fear is that many of us have so insulated ourselves from pain and real risk that we make decisions without considering the ramifications. Perhaps many of us think we are pseudo invincible? Perhaps we don’t realize the reality that if we have a privileged life, someone else by necessity is underprivileged. Maybe someday soon, you could invite some people over for lunch that could never repay you.